In past blog articles, I’ve emphasized the inherent value of automating processes in order to increase efficiency and in doing so, improve a media company’s bottom line. Several readers have contacted me on this, questioning if all processes can be automated. The answer to that is “no.” There are many creative processes in the media workflow which do not offer the opportunity to automate (at least as of yet—let’s see where AI takes us in that regard. In the meantime, though, these processes require creative people to ply their craft).
Editing – The Craft of Story Telling
Editing – be it long form, short form or news – is the perfect example of a creative process that does not lend itself to automation. The whole point is to stitch together video and audio elements in such a manner as to tell a story in the most compelling way possible. Often, this means that decisions made later in the edit may require that decisions made earlier in the edit be revisited – to tighten up a shot, perhaps, or to remove a reference that is better made later in the story. It’s hard to see how automation can be applied to this process, other than the mechanical “bag and tag” replacement of a final phone number in an ad. So here we have the situation where the process basically “takes as long as it takes” (within reasonable bounds, of course). In addition, the process requires the use of dedicated equipment and even real estate in the form of edit bays or suites. These are expensive, single-purpose assets (which are extremely well suited to their single purpose), and media companies must maximize the time when they are involved in the creative process in order to justify the expense. Given this highly specialized work and environment, the obvious question is “Can we still improve the efficiency of the whole process?”
If Not At The Core, Look To The Edge
While we may not be able to apply technology to automate the central editing process, if we look at the overall editing workflow, we find that there is indeed room to increase efficiency through automation.
All edits start with the gathering of the source material required for the project. This is often not as simple as it sounds – files (clips) may be in any of a number of locations, in any of a number of formats. The first requirement is to gather up all of the needed clips, convert them into the house edit format, and ingest them into the non-linear editor’s (NLE) local storage (and potentially register them in the NLE’s database). In larger organizations, you may have a pool of edit bays all “pulling” material from central storage. Even in this case, the gathering, converting and registering steps remain as a requirement. Clearly, this is an area we can improve – it makes no sense whatsoever to have an expensive creative individual spend valuable time on the ingest phase. Some companies use less experienced operators to perform this action for this very reason, but they are still tying up an expensive edit station just to get the material in for the edit. An obvious solution is to offload the gathering, transcoding and delivery of the source material to an external system – preferably one which has the ability to watch for new material and automatically perform the ingest process.
As I’ve mentioned, there is little we can do to aid in the creative process of crafting the story, but there is a final stage which we can improve – rendering/exporting the final result. NLEs need to render their timelines out to a single clip, and then deliver the final clip to the destination in the format required for that end-point. If the final result has to go to several different end points, then the editor must repeat this export multiple times. This, again, is a senseless waste of expensive resources, in both human and equipment terms. It would be much better to have an external system take the timeline and render it into the final clip (this step may not always be possible, though), and then transcode and deliver it to all of the end points required. This process can certainly be automated, as the external system can be instructed which formats it should make, and how it should deliver the results, via its control API. Doing so releases the edit bay and editor from dealing with that mundane task and lets them get back to what they do best – editing the next story.
While there are some operations within a media workflow that don’t directly benefit from the use of external automated processing, the workflow itself can be improved – by looking at the edge functions, rather than the core function.
-Paul Turner, turnerconsulting.tv
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